...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Inventive inventions #4: the seat belt

My blog turned two years this month! ... And yes, I still have a folder-full of backlog entries that I would like to write about someday, about half of them having something to do with food. Since my first blog-birthday entry dealt with things I could do to improve the blog, I decided to follow that up this year. As a new blogyear resolution, I will really try to write about other things than food more often. Of course that doesn't mean that I will stop writing about food altogether (I can't help myself. In fact, I'm already thinking about my next food journal). I'll merely try to space them out a little bit. This is also going to be a challenge for me because this means I have to find other aspects of Swedish life to write about.

So today, I resurrect an old series, Inventive inventions – things that have been invented by Swedes and/or useful objects whose origin I do not know but nevertheless often figure in Swedish life. So far, I've talked about the cheese slicer, the tetra pack, and taxonomy. Now, I add the seat belt to the list. Come to think of it, doesn't it just make perfect sense that the world's most safety-conscious people (life expectancy in Sweden is among the highest, I think only second to Japan), who produce one of the world's safest cars (Volvo, who ship crashed cars back to Sweden to study the crumple zones) would have invented such a thing?

The Volvo logo is the ancient chemical symbol for iron (iron's association with weapons and the god of warfare Mars, also has turned it into a common ideogram for masculinity). The name Volvo comes from latin "volvere", to roll.

Volvo didn't produce the very first seat belt, i.e. the lap belt, but it did produce what today is a basic standard for cars. Interestingly, when it's inventor, Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin came up with it in 1958, he patented it "Basics of Proper Restraint Systems for Car Occupants". But in ordinary English, that really just means the three-point seat belt:

Yup, it's that thing which I hope you use when you're in any engine-running vehicle. Except jeepneys, which really can't have seat belts. You'll just have to cross your fingers that nothing happens to you there.

I find it interesting that things we take for granted as standard objects today hadn't actually existed until recently. Only in 1959 did the three-point seat belt become a standard in Sweden; it didn't become a standard in the United States and elsewhere in Europe until the 60's. This means that people our parent's age probably remember a distinct time when three-point seat belts appeared in their cars. This also explains why our old ('64?) Beetle didn't have standard locking seat belts until my dad installed one to it.

In '67, seat belts in the back passenger seats became a Volvo standard as well, but it was only in '68 that these "locked", as seat belts do today when you jerk forward. In '75, wearing seat belts become mandatory in Sweden (after which driving injuries have been halved!), and in the Philippines, well, this was only in the case from 1999! (And according to the Philippine law, this meant any type of restraint device which could mean lap-belts and seat belts that don't necessarily lock. However, there's nothing much that could be done to vintage cars in Sweden either, I would guess). Based on observations and articles that I've read, there still seems to be a long way to go before the Seat Belt Act is fully implemented in the Philippines, but Sweden isn't perfect either and accidents that involve buses bring on a debate about why not all buses, including the Campus bus I ride to school, are seat belt-equipped. In fairness (and for my folks' peace of mind), the bus only drives 90km/h in a highway where cars can drive up to 110. But that's still fast, isn't it?

Anyway, when a vehicle is seat belt-equipped, I do think that there's no excuse not to buckle up, and by habit I never remove my belt until we have reached our destination (as a lot of accidents happen near people's homes when they prematurely take off their seat belts, raising their risk for injury). Take it from someone studying a course on Health and Society. Heheh. ;-) Besides, it could cost you a lot if you're caught without one.


Anonymous Esther Garvi said...

I find spacing out works really well: it doesn't place your blog in a niche, but the variation is well worth it!

11:39 AM


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